Expression of the influenza A virus M2 protein Is restricted to apical surfaces of polarized epithelial cells

Patsy G. Hughey, Richard W. Compans*, Suzanne L. Zebedee, Robert A. Lamb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


The M2 protein of influenza A virus is a small, nonglycosylated transmembrane protein that is expressed on surfaces of virus-infected cells. A monoclonal antibody specific for the M2 protein was used to investigate its expression in polarized epithelial cells infected with influenza virus or a recombinant vaccinia virus that expresses M2. The expression of M2 on the surfaces of influenza virus-infected cells was found to be restricted to the apical surface, closely paralleling that of the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA). Membrane domain-specific immunoprecipitation indicated that the M2 protein was inserted directly into the apical membrane with transport kinetics similar to those of HA. In polarized cells infected with a recombinant vaccinia virus that expresses M2, we found that 86 to 93% of surface M2 was restricted to the apical domain compared with 88 to 90% of HA in a similar assay. These results indicate that the M2 protein undergoes directional transport in the absence of other influenza virus proteins and that M2 contains the structural features required for apical transport in polarized epithelial cells. The ultrastructural localization of the M2 protein in influenza virus-infected MDCK cells was investigated by immunoelectron microscopy using M2 antibody and a gold conjugate. In cells in which extensive virus budding was occurring, the apical cell membrane was labeled with gold particles evenly distributed between microvilli and the surrounding membrane. In addition, a significant fraction of the M2 label was apparently associated with virions. A monoclonal antibody specific for HA demonstrated a similar labeling pattern. These results indicate that M2 is localized in close proximity to budding and assembled virions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5542-5552
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Virology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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